Lithuania: Opportunities for young families to reconcile work and parenting
In 2014, researchers at Lithuania’s Vytautas Magnus University began a two-year project to identify how young families could reconcile parenting and working life. Interviews with parents and employers showed that individual employers’ attitudes are crucial to establishing the conditions for a good work–life balance.
In 2014, researchers at Vytautas Magnus University began a research project, ‘Parenting and career reconciliation model for young families', which aimed to develop a model of parenting and career reconciliation for young families. The final report (PDF) was published in 2016. The main findings from interviews with employers and a questionnaire survey of parents are described below.
How employers help young families
To determine employers’ attitudes towards family life and career reconciliation opportunities, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 employers representing different Lithuanian organisations and regions between February and April 2015. Non-probability purposive sampling was used to obtain a sample, which consisted of organisations having a different activity status.
The research demonstrated that the creation of employee-friendly working conditions and a willingness to deal with parents’ problems are essential to reconciling the parenting and career needs of people with young families. The findings from the interviews indicated that employers understood the benefits of introducing such initiatives as:
- the creation of employee-friendly workplaces
- the provision of crèches
- the ability to take days off to look after a sick child
- individual working time arrangements
- opportunities to work part-time
- giving employees a day off when requested.
The employers said they also addressed such employees’ situations by discussing new ways of working (such as working from home) and looking at the possibilities of applying flexible working hours.
Work–parenting balance linked to job type
The research further showed that family life and career reconciliation opportunities depend strongly on the profile of the organisation and job type. Employers in the manufacturing or service sectors pointed out that, if their businesses have a clearly regulated working time, it is more difficult to adapt to their employees’ needs. When employers need to ensure continuous production processes and results, their ability to apply flexible working hours or other similar measures is very limited.
However, most employers say they try to take their employees’ needs into account and to address their problems; they are also positive about young families. Employers also say they pay more attention to results and to the quality of an employee’s work rather than the number of hours worked. Employers also emphasise that, in trying to resolve problems, they try to find a compromise in favour of the employee. However, employers usually wait for employees to bring up the problem, with employees often seeming to lack such initiative.
Prevalence of 'one-career couples' model
A total of 396 respondents participated in an online questionnaire survey of young families with children under 12 years between March and May 2016 that investigated links between different aspects of parenting and career reconciliation. Women comprised by far the majority of respondents – more than 80%. Most of the respondents (67%) had university degrees, 25% had a higher non-university education and a little over 7% had senior secondary or secondary education.
According to the survey findings, the majority of parents (96%) with dependent children were working, with 81% of them working full-time. Some 77% of the respondents were working on permanent employment contracts and 16% were working on fixed-term contracts.
During the survey, the respondents were given several statements relating to parenting and career reconciliation with which they had to agree or disagree. The findings showed that the single biggest share of the respondents agreed or fully agreed with the statements that:
- ‘Being a good father/mother does not prevent me from being a good worker’ (41%)
- ‘I’m currently satisfied with my working life’ (40%).
The smallest share of respondents agreed or fully agreed with the statements that:
- ‘My career is currently the more important in our family’ (19%);
- ‘I’m satisfied with the pay I receive in my current workplace’ (20%).
Only 17% of mothers said their career was, at that time, the more important one in their family. The researchers say this supports the conclusion that the prevailing parenting model in Lithuania is ‘one-career couples’.
Worst conflict caused by time management
Analysis of the findings from the survey was based on a research logic offered in a 2000 paper by US researchers (PDF) which stated that work–family conflict is both bi-directional (family can affect working life and vice versa) and multidimensional, involving the elements of:
- time (when it is difficult to balance time to fulfil obligations)
- strain (devotion to one role negatively affects successful participation in another)
- behaviour (specific behaviours required in one role are transferred to another role with which they are incompatible).
According to the survey findings, the worst conflict reported by the respondents was time management, where time-based conflict is transferred from the family domain to the work domain. Work-to-family strain-based conflict was reported to be the least stressful.
An analysis of the kinds of conflict caused reveals that more serious conflicts in the family domain arise in relation to family obligations. In other words, unsatisfied family obligations (and not job-related obligations) are one of the main causes of family–work conflicts in young families.
Favourable treatment does not guarantee employer’s support for parents
Although employers report being positive about reconciling parenting and careers for young families, many of the respondents said they did not receive any support from their organisation. It should be noted that:
- 72% of respondents reported never having had the opportunity to consult career or human resources officers about their career issues;
- 59% said they had never had the opportunity to consult their managers about their personal career issues
- 47% reported never having had the opportunity to discuss their working hours and work intensity with the chief executive officer of their organisation.
When asked about the most frequent form of support they use, or have ever used, to reconcile parenting and career obligations, most respondents (70%) mentioned pre-school education establishments, 56% said relatives and 39% mentioned after-school activities.
Even though work and family life is regulated by law in Lithuania, the research shows that this regulation is often theoretical. Furthermore, very little attention is paid to the reconciliation of parenting and careers by the social partners or by the government. In such cases, it is all the more important to be able to agree arrangements with individual employers – with the latter’s attitude therefore crucial. The researchers’ solution is to institutionalise the status of the young family, which they say would make the paperwork for employers easier in cases of changing working time or recording it so as to adapt to the needs of a young family.
One of the researchers’ most important recommendations is the development of career counselling services and publicising the availability of such services, which are rare in Lithuania.